Durban - It was his first visit to Durban and he wanted to try a good bunny chow.
I chatted to celebrity chef Rick Stein, fish guru, author of more than 20 books, and star of more than 30 TV series, who was at the Good Food & Wine Show.
He said that while filming the India series that is showing on BBC Lifestyle currently, he had wanted to get to Durban. “I thought of pitching up at a few places around the world with large Indian communities,” he said, but the producers thought better of it.
For Stein, the success of that series was that it wasn’t prescriptive. “We reacted to what we found and the people we met.”
It’s a series that’s been warmly received the world over.
Stein talks about his early days back in Cornwall. He says he’s been fortunate to be part of a food revolution that started in the 70s and has continued since. And that it is changing attitudes to food and the people who prepare it.
He points out he was destined to go into industry or law, standing behind the range was unheard of.
“It was also very hard to get ingredients – today they are available everywhere.”
And it was hard to get fresh fish. “It has a short shelf life. The French and Spanish have the right approach, they eat a lot of fish and turn it over quickly.
But things are improving on the general supplier front and customers are becoming better educated. It was one of the reasons he opened The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow in the 1970s.
“It was pioneering in that the Brits didn’t eat a lot of fish. I thought it’s so good and that must change. It’s what’s available.
Padstow is a quaint seaside fishing village on the north coast of Cornwall, one that’s sheltered from the weather, and the boats can only come in and out two hours either side of high tide. “It feels a bit like Hermanus.”
It was here Stein and his first wife and current business partner Jill started a nightclub in an old warehouse in the 70s. “This failed dismally as we couldn’t keep order. It was quite anti-social,” he admits. “It was a kick up the arse. We had to make a living. That’s why I started cooking. It was hard work.”
And in 1975 the restaurant was born.
So what’s the secret? I ask.
“Keep it simple,” is his philosophy. “And it’s got to be fresh. The more you add to fish, the less fish feeds you,” are his words of wisdom
That, and did he say it had to be fresh?
And what’s in the pipeline?
South African viewers can still look forward to his series, Venice to Istanbul, that airs in January. It’s a trip that takes in Croatia, Albania, Greece and Turkey. The idea behind the series was that the eastern Mediterranean was an area where many go on holiday.
“It’s personal to what they know,” Stein says – yet there is still a lot to explore.
He was impressed by Albania. “It was a lot less challenging than we thought it would be. It has beautiful ingredients, although the style is unsophisticated.”
He also likes northern Greece, an area far less travelled. “And Ephesus was just crazy. It was blindingly hot and there were so many tourists.”
But Stein deals with it all in his affable style.
Next up is the series Rick Stein’s Long Weekends. He’ll be visiting cities within three hours flying time of London and putting his own personal impressions on the food.
While Stein has restaurants, and spends a fair deal of his year in Australia, he points out, “you can’t exactly hop on a flight and an hour later you’re in Bordeaux.”